Issues surrounding the regulation of civil society groups and nongovernmental organizations have once again taken the international spotlight. The scene this time is Egypt, where offices of several human rights groups and NGOs were reportedly raided by government forces.
It was not the first time local and international NGOs in the North African country came under attack but, as the United Nations noted, it was the first time NGO offices were raided following the ouster of Egypt’s former leader, Hosni Mubarak.
The United Nations, the European Union, the United States, Canada, Germany and U.S.-based NGO coalition InterAction described the raids as counterproductive, inconsistent and unacceptable — particularly since they came in the throes of Egypt’s transition to a democratic government and ahead of a long-awaited national election.
News agencies said the raids occurred Thursday (Dec. 29), when armed police officers and soldiers forced their way into the offices of several local and international NGOs — the majority of which are working on issues related to citizen participation and the upcoming elections. Security forces reportedly rounded up staff members, searched through files, and confiscated documents and computers. Among the international NGOs whose offices were raided are the U.S.-based groups International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute and Freedom House.
Egyptian government officials have defended the raids as part of ongoing investigations into alleged malpractices and illegal activities of some NGOs and civil society groups.
“This was not a raid or a storming or an attack. It was an investigation,” Aboul Naga said. “There are foreign civil society groups that began operating without permission, which is totally outside the law.”
Egyptian state media echoed this reasoning, saying the government has found evidence at least one of the groups received unauthorized foreign funding that was spent to encourage protest against the interim military government. The claim was dismissed as a “smear campaign” by a group of 30 human rights organizations that were not among the groups raided.
The Egyptian government has previously targeted the foreign funding of some NGOs, especially unregistered ones. It said such groups should immediately cease operations because they do not comply with the rules set by Egypt’s foreign ministry office.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, said they have received assurances from Egypt’s top generals that the raids on civil society groups and human rights organizations will cease. De facto leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi told U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panneta the government will allow the NGOs to reopen their offices as well as return seized documents and equipment, the New York Times says, citing U.S. officials.
It is unclear when the seized equipment and documents would be returned. Egyptian Justice Minister Adel Abdel-Hamid has indicated that bank statements, among other property, would only be given back to respective NGOs upon the conclusion of the government’s investigation, according to The Associated Press. The news agency notes the minister did not elaborate on when the government expects to tie up its probe.
Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.